93% of the UK is not urban. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) give us the ‘right to roam’ over 3.4 million acres of English and Welsh countryside. Yet only 58% of British adults visit the ‘natural’ environment at least once a week and half of those visits are to parks. Our most common activity is walking with a dog.(1)
So, when 10 acres of land came up for sale in the heart of South Derbyshire, the Melbourne Action Transition group identified an opportunity to help more people get involved with the rural natural environment. The group set up a not for profit organisation to buy the land and change its use.
Four years, two share offerings, 20,000 volunteer hours, 3,500 native woodland trees and 150 fruit trees, more than 200 group visits, and grants from the National Forest Company and other organisations later and Whistlewood Common is living up to our early expectations and will do so much more.
Our members (shareholders) designed the site using permaculture principle (a sustainable design framework) to create a community resource with three main uses:
- Provide skills to live more sustainably through events, workshops and activities.
- Give everyone the opportunity to experience and appreciate nature by being part of it.
- Host events to bring our community closer.
In the original plan, you can see coppices of willow, alder, Hazel, hornbeam and lime with oak standards at the top of the image. A small stream meanders through the trees down to ponds (at the moment the stream flows through a plastic culvert, we have yet to rescue it). Above the trees, you can see two swooping swales which will be planted with edible shrubs and the forest gardens. More stands of mixed natives, sweet chestnut coppice, walnut standards and Italian alder bring us up to more open areas. To the left, we have the top field with its orchards, the track and a play area and to the right, you will find the hub, with the roundhouse taking centre stage. These plans are three years old and have changed to meet our changing needs, understanding and capabilities.
The site has several zones: the hub (which you may remember from last month’s post), the top field, swales, stream, coppice, mixed native wood. You will best understand by admiring the picture in the sidebar.
While we still have a bit of work to do, each area has seen a fair amount of attention. For example, the swales now create wetland in a previously sloping, free draining field. The top field has trees and wildlife reserves as well as our bottle drop off point. The orchards were planted by families and have since been tended by Duke of Edinburgh volunteers, pruned during workshops, and harvested and jammed by members. We hope to sell our jam at the Melbourne Christmas Fayre. And the hub…
Well, the hub stands testament to the power of community. We have several structures from outdoor composting loos (built with help from volunteers from Rolls-Royce), an obligatory shed and the start of a living sedum roof on the kitchen/ dining room.
At the moment volunteers can warm their hands and boil a kettle on our outdoor stove and we will soon have the start of our roundhouse.
Once the roundhouse is open we will be able to use the site year-round, hosting events and activities like those described in the sidebar.
We can only complete the roundhouse because of the community that has built and loves Whistlewood. We have won grants only because we can show our value to the community. We will get help building the roundhouse only because we are joining a community of straw builders. Our members, their families and friends, local groups all give up their time and give materials. And local businesses have overwhelmed us with their generosity.
Community Shares Whistlewood is a Community Benefit Society and is thereby allowed to issue community shares. Such shares are not financial investments, they are community investments. And since 2009, 350 community business (such as local shops and pubs, sports teams, heritage preservation societies, community facilities and renewable energy schemes) have received over £100m of investment from almost 120,000 people. In Whistlewood’s case, we have committed to supporting the ethos and aims of the society. We come from far and wide and while most of us live in South Derbyshire we have members as far afield as New Zealand.
We have so much going on at Whistlewood, that you should visit our Facebook page for a full list.
Our thanks go to The National Forest Company, Million Trees Derbyshire and The Big Tree Plant, Skipton Building Society, Grassroots Giving, National Tree Week and Orchard Windfalls – The Tree Council, Woodland Trust, Making Local Woods Work, The National Lottery, Power to Change and Co-operatives UK, East Midlands Airport, South Derbyshire District Council, Denios UK, Making Local Woods Work, Awards for All and Rolls-Royce.
And all our other supporters: individuals, companies and voluntary organisations. We couldn’t do it without you.
(1) These statistics are taken from the 2015 Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment, which also noted that visits to rural natural environments are declining. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/monitor-of-engagement-with-the-natural-environment-survey-purpose-and-results